Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre

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Ben Schwartz interviewed in BlackBook

<p><img src="http://www.blackbookmag.com/polopoly_fs/1.40490.1320287069!/image/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/original/image.jpg" border="1"></p>

<p>BlackBook <i>October 27, 2011</i><br>
<u>Meet Ben Schwartz, The Man Behind Jean-Ralphio</u><br>
by Ben Barna</p>

<p>Fans of <i>Parks and Recreation</I> will immediately recognize comedian <a href="http://losangeles.ucbtheatre.com/talent/view/2641">Ben Schwartz</a> as <a href="http://losangeles.ucbtheatre.com/talent/view/2067">Aziz Ansari</a>'s trusted wingman, the skeevy but loveable Jean-Ralphio. And while the thirty-year-old actor-slash-writer remains an unknown mainstream quantity, most Americans have laughed at his jokes without even realizing it. Schwartz, a UCB-bred talent, has not only contributed jokes to <i>SNL</i> and <i>The Late Show with David Letterman</i>, but he also co-wrote Hugh Jackman's show-stopping opening number at the 81st Academy Awards, which won him an Emmy. Not bad for a former mainstay of New York's sketch comedy circuit. We caught up with Schwartz recently to discuss the birth of his <i>Parks and Rec</i> gig, interacting with fans, and rewriting the cult classic, <i>Soapdish</i>.</p>

<p><b>When did you know you wanted to write and perform?</b> It was this weird thing that when I graduated, the thing I wanted to do more than anything was comedy. I gave myself a year at the very beginning and I was going to try my hardest, and I was performing at UCB. In the beginning, I was making money more as a writer than an actor, so I tried to be involved in the industry in any way I could. I freelanced for any magazine that would let me write for them, I wrote jokes for everyone, I performed at a yoga studio a couple times. But UCB was always the basis of everything. Every day I was interning there so I could get free classes, because I didn't have any money. I was in love with everybody who performed there, and just wanted to be a part of that community.</p>

<p><b>How did you get the Oscars gig?</b> I had a meeting with Hugh Jackman's production company, and told them how much fun it would be for me to write something for him for the Oscars, and I pitched a bunch of ideas and they hired me.</p>

<p><b>And you wrote for the Oscars with (<i>Community</i> creator) Dan Harmon?</b> Yeah! I remember when we were writing, Harmon was like, I have this show that hopefully gets picked up called <i>Community</i>. Crazy.</p>

<p><b>How did you get involved with <i>Parks and Rec</i>?</b> They were looking for a love interest for Amy, and Mike was like, "Well, you're way too young for this.” But then we had a meeting and he had seen these short films I did interviewing these ESPN guys, and he thought they were funny. So Mike said "Listen, you're too young for this role and there's nothing for you yet, but we'll find a way to get you in this world." What happened was, they wrote Jean-Ralphio, I don't know if for me or not, but it was literally just one paragraph. I didn't even have to audition and for me that never happens. And so I went in and read the dialogue, and it was that interview scene with Tom and Swanson. It was just a human being saying the douchiest words that a human being can say, like what the worst version of an interview is.</p>

<p><b>How much of it is improv?</b> My character is so silly so sometimes I'll just go on little rants or add little stuff and they'll always be cool with it. But it's scripted, and 98% of the words are on the page. They have the best writing staff in the universe. Every time I get a script I laugh out loud from beginning to end, and it's a testament to Mike Schur and Amy and all those guys giving you a place where you can take risks.</p>

<p><b>And it just keeps getting better.</b> I think all the seasons were amazing. People say the first season wasn't good, but the first one was six episodes, so it as them establishing the characters. If you think about it, the first season would have been the first and second season put together. Now they're firing on all cylinders. I think the third season was a perfect season.</p>

<p><b>So have you seen The Complete Jean-Ralphio?</b> I'm such a huge fan of the show. I'm in like three episodes a season so I watch all the deleted scenes for episodes, and I'm such a fan, so when that stuff comes out and I'm in it, I'm like, "This is the best!" There are so many fans of Jean-Ralphio and tumblrs and art and it's so cool to see, because I believe in the show so much, and I wish more people were watching it.</p>

<p><b>But the audience it does have is very loyal and devoted.</b> And I think they're cool, because when people recognize me on the street as Jean-Ralphio, there's nobody that's an asshole, everybody is nice. If you're into that show it's because you get the comedy, and that type of humor is what makes you laugh, and it's also what makes me laugh, so all these people that watch have been very, very cool.</p>

<p><b>Can you tell me anything about <i>Soapdish</i>?</b> They wanted to remake it, and I was asked if I had a new take on it, which made me a little nervous because it's a cult classic, so I took a little time, came up with, it and pitched to Paramount. After I pitched it, they were like, "Yup, this is great. We want you to write it." I come from improv, so my comedy isn't super mainstream. Mine is more a UCB vibe. So with this script, there are aspects of alternative comedy. I got to write the things that I thought were funny and they did not muzzle my voice at all.</p>

<p><b>So this has been a huge year for you.</b> In my head, even if I'm not getting paid for something, I'll just start writing a script. And for writing you kind of control your own destiny. For acting, I have to wait for people to audition and if I'm right for it I get it. I do these postcard books, the first one was called <i>Breaking Bad News with Baby Animals</i>. So we have a third one of that's coming out called, <i>Looking On the Brightside with Baby Animals</i>. It's like the worst situations in your life and it's these baby animals teaching you to look on the bright side of them. That's coming out November first.</p>

<p>(<a href="http://www.blackbookmag.com/tv/meet-ben-schwartz-the-man-behind-jean-ralphio-1.40702">source</a>)</p>